We laughed about the shadow.
“What do you expect for 70% off?” Pete said as I rotated the lamp and watched the darkness move around the walls.
“It wasn’t in the ‘reduced because of a creepy shadow’ section,” I said. “How does it make it, anyway?”
Between the telly and the fireplace, a shape crawled half out of the ground. its long snout pointed to the ceiling; its talon claws stretched into thin knives.
“Personally, I think it’s high time Laura Ashley expanded their range from ye olde English country gardens to psycho moles. Who knows, maybe they were a major feature in the lives of the landed gentry back in Georgian times, and this is just a bid for authenticity?” Pete said.
I tried to laugh, but it lodged in my throat like my mum’s lumpy mashed potato. I turned the lamp off.
“Does it look the same to you?” I asked Pete the following evening. He looked up from his phone.
“Like it wants to eat our entrails?” He raised an eyebrow.
“It’s bigger, like it’s crawled out more.”
“You’re imagining things.” And he went back to clicking messages. I took a pencil and made a tiny mark on the wall at the tip of the shadow’s claws.
The next evening, the claws reached an inch above the pencil mark. I turned the lamp off. And in the morning, as soon as the shops were open, I bundled the lamp back in its box and got myself in the queue at Laura Ashley. The shop smelled of magnolia and mirrors.
“I thought they’d recalled all of these,” the assistant said. Her brow was furrowed. She turned the card reader towards me. I tapped it with my card. The refund beeped. “There’s a special hotline, just in case you have any other issues.”
“Other issues?” But she just wrote a number on a card and passed it over the counter. I put it in my wallet.
But that evening, when it grew dark and we put the lights on in the living room, the shadow was still there. Still there, but further out, claws curled, snout starting to open showing razor teeth. Pete stared and said nothing, his face the colour of my mum’s lumpy mashed potato.
“Laura Ashley gave me a number in case of problems,” I said, reaching into my wallet.
“I think this qualifies,” Pete said. He even shoved his precious phone at me. I dialled.
“This number is no longer in operation,” a computer voice said. And then there was a sound like claws scraping earth. I shoved the phone back at Pete. There was a silence between us thick and clinging. Pete inched closer to the shadow.
“It smells,” he said. And it did. Not an unpleasant smell. It was like a garden on a November morning. It even brought back memories of my Dad building bonfires and me scooping armfuls of soggy leaves and piling them. “We should keep a record or something, see how much it’s growing every day.”
He got the pencil and reached to mark the shadow’s height.
“Ow!” He dropped the pencil. Blood dripped from his finger. “It cut me.”
We didn’t rush out of there. We shut the door slowly. Pete washed and put a plaster on his cut. And we went to bed. But when I slept, my dreams were full of the sounds of earth scraping and the smells of soil.
“You’d better see this,” Pete shook me awake.
I followed him downstairs into the smell of earthworms and hedge roots. In the living room, between the telly and the fireplace, where the shadow had been, was a pile of soil like a molehill. Only it was larger than a molehill. I was dressed, and in the car, and on my way before he said anything. I waited outside Laura Ashley. Pete sent photos to my phone.
It looks like it’s getting bigger, he messaged.
Any sign of the shadow? I texted back.
Close the bloody curtains and put on the light, then. He didn’t reply to that. He was always touchy. And soon they were opening the doors. I pushed my way inside.
“You told me to call if I had problems, but it was a dead number, and now I’ve got this in my living room.” I held up my phone. The assistant’s eyes were bulging with worry. She muttered something about getting the manager and scurried off.
I’m waiting for the manager. Did you try closing the curtains? I messaged Pete. He didn’t reply. Still offended, no doubt. So, I sat down on one of the awful hard sofas that looked like something from Hyacinth Bucket’s home. My hair smelled of freshly dug earth. I pulled a hairband out of my pocket and tied it back, so I couldn’t smell it anymore.
They’re taking their time. Was the shadow there? I messaged Pete. But he still didn’t answer. I found a sofa that was actually comfortable and let myself sink into it. There was the click-clack of high heels.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.” It was the assistant again. “We have some forms for you to fill in.” She handed me a pile of papers, a biro, and a magazine to lean on. Then she left me to it.
Unbelievable. All they’ve done is give me some bloody forms, I texted. But I filled them in.
“Someone should contact you within 48 hours,” the assistant said as I handed them over. I glanced at the clock. It was nearly midday, and they hadn’t so much as given me a coffee.
Leaving now. What a joke, I messaged Pete. Still no reply. Even for him, this was a lengthy sulk.
“Bloody useless lot,” I said as I turned the key in the front door.
I coughed at the stench of soil. There was no point asking Pete why he hadn’t responded to my messages. The best course of action was to pretend it hadn’t happened. But the house was quiet, like an empty garage. The living room door was shut. I turned the handle. The curtains were closed but the lights were off. The molehill was wider, and soil spread across the carpet. I reached for the light switch, blinked at the brightness. A shadow stretched up from the molehill. It had Pete’s shape. Its arms flung out as if clutching, but from the waist, it buried into the ground. My heart was all through me. I plunged through the soil, tried to grab the shadow arms. But all I felt was the wall. And then, slowly, very slowly, he sank lower and lower into the ground. I watched his fingers disappear.
Then there was nothing left of him.
“You’ll be well compensated,” the Laura Ashley representative said on the phone. “We’ll even throw in a new carpet. We just didn’t have the staff to get someone out to you right away. These things happen, I’m afraid. The compensation will be in the form of a credit note, you understand.”
Rebecca Harrison sneezes like Donald Duck and her best friend is a dog who can count